Was QM Hichens Drunk?


Doug Criner

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In his book, Col. Gracie claimed that Hichens, who was in charge of Lifeboat 6, was definitely drunk. Certainly, it seems that others in that lifeboat, including Molly Brown, believed that Hichens acted very inappropriately. Col. Gracie ought to have been a credible judge of whether somebody was drunk.

Was Hichens drunk? If so, unless he started drinking after the accident, it seems that he might have been drunk while on watch at the time of the collision?
 

Doug Criner

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Dave, I can't find the source. Maybe somebody else can help? But, since I'm unable to back up my comment, I must retract my post. Sorry.
 

Adam Went

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If he was under the influence in the lifeboat, it would probably only be because he went all Charles Joughin during the course of the sinking...

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Peuchen never said outright that Robert Hichens was "drunk". In his account, Peuchen stated that Hichens "must have been drinking". I'll go into more detail as to the exchanges between Peuchen and Hichens in my book, which I'm hoping to have published sometime next year.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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I thought that this somewhat unfair complaint against the quartermaster originated because one of the passengers, seeing him sitting shivering at the tiller, offered him a swig of brandy to "warm him up"?
 
Hichen's great granddaughter here. Lately I have been studying the handwriting of Robert Hichens through a graphologist which makes for fascinating reading. One of the aspects of his personality that came out was that Robert needed, in order to do his job properly, to be given direct orders to which he would follow to the letter. When he was thrown into this horrendous position of being given orders by 'every Tom Dick and Harry' in his lifeboat it went against everything that was natural to him. I also believe from my research that Robert had underlying neurasthenia way before Titanic. I think it gradually progressed after leaving Cornwall and would have been exasperated in Southampton where the culture and incredible work challenges put a huge amount of pressure on him. I also believe he was fit and able to perform his duty as quartermaster and took his orders as a professional crewman. I DO NOT BELIEVE HE WAS DRUNK.
 
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Well, I don't know if Robert Hichens was drunk or not, and nor do any of you. What I do know is that this obsession with alcohol consumption is rather a variable thing. People have thought badly of alcohol at varying times, and not necessarily because it is dangerous in itself. Alcohol has been proscribed in the USA more than once, most notably during Prohibition (by law) but also recently by social disapproval. Which, I think, still obtains. However, I think it highly unlikely that Hichens was drunk in terms of consuming vast amounts of booze - there simply was not the opportunity for a crew member of his status to have enough access to alcohol, and it was frowned upon anyway, and he wouldn't have had the money to buy it. It is, of course, entirely possible that a virtually teetotal person would have been badly affected by even a small nip of brandy, taken for reasons which were utterly dire. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised or censorious of anyone on the night of the sinking who was taking comfort from alcohol.
 

Dave Gittins

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The fine for bringing alcohol on board was five shillings. The fine for being drunk was five shillings for the first offence and ten shillings for subsequent offences. A regular drunk would no doubt get an unfavourable report on discharge.
 

Jim Currie

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There is one aspect of drinking at sea which none of you have addressed and that is the effect such behaviour has on ones shipmates.

It is not the first time that a crew has pettioned the captain concerning removal of a drunken bully.

On board a merchant ship, there is one job for every man and every man's work is connected to the work of the next man.
If some 'plonker' is incapapble or less than efficient at performing his duty, then the slack has to be taken-up by others.
When the work is hard, tiring and repetative, tempers get short. When everyone is closeted together in cramped, claustraphopic, warm, damp accommodation, things like personal hygene, surliness and in particular, alcoholic excess are very high profile. It does not fit and most certainly does not last.

The minute a Quartermaster stepped on the bridge of a ship, he was not alone. His 'little drink' would be public knowledge. The man he relieved would smell his breath. The Junior Officer would smell it as would the senior officer. If the captain made one of his frequent visits passing through the wheelhouse, the place would smell like a pub on a Saturday night. In a few words: Hitchens's feet would not have touched the deck. He would have been sent below immediately and that would have been his last trip on Titanic, even if she hadn't gone down.

Additionally: 'It takes one to know one' as they say.

Unless our friend the galloping Major was a T-totaller, he too would have had a glass or two at dinner that night. Consequently if he had been confronted by someone who also had been imbibing, that person would need to have been A over T before he.. Peuchin.. was able to recognise the effect of drink.. the clue is SMELL!

I look forward to the coming book and I hope that man will be exposed for what I think his actions that night revealed him to be.. an oportunistic, pompus, self opinionated, successful man who had self-preservation uppermost in his thoughts.
I'm not a 'salt of the earth' working man's champion but if ever there were reasons for left-wing politics, that man's actions and attitudes were classic examples for such politics.

As for his marine expertise:

That was the man who laughed at Hitchens's suggestion of a buoy at sea but who said of Carpathia:

"I do not know whether she came to anchor; I think probably she did"

Really? In 12500 feet of water?

This was the man who professed to be a marine expert and who set off directly north from the port side of a ship which was heading west.:rolleyes:

Hitchens had wrung more salt water out of his sock than that man had ever sailed over. (Oh I know he crossed the Atlantic several times... just making a point.)

Jim C.
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Hello Jim,

Unless our friend the galloping Major was a T-totaller, he too would have had a glass or two at dinner that night.

That is correct. Peuchen did have a glass or two and he was also in the smoking room for at least two and a half hours, drinking cognac and smoking cigars, until he decided it was high time to turn in for the night.

I look forward to the coming book and I hope that man will be exposed for what I think his actions that night revealed him to be

Thank you for your interest, but I have no intention of exposing his actions since he wasn't what you've claimed him to be. One of my goals with the book is to give him the justice and recognition that he sought for so long, but never received.

an oportunistic, pompus, self opinionated, successful man who had self-preservation uppermost in his thoughts.

I'm afraid you're only half right. Yes, he was opportunistic, self opinonated and successful. But he was most definitely not pompus and did not have self-preservation at the forefront of his thoughts, which I really take issue with. He would have allowed a woman to get into the boat and would have stayed on the deck. Julia Cavendish overhead him say that, before he got into lifeboat 6. That's exactly the type of accusation that I'm trying to put to rest once and for all with my book. Plus, that gives Peuchen a bad name which he clearly didn't and still doesn't deserve. It's unfortunate that you see Peuchen that way, but that's your opinion. Perhaps after you read my book, you will see him in a different light.

As for his marine expertise:

That was the man who laughed at Hitchens's suggestion of a buoy at sea but who said of Carpathia:

"I do not know whether she came to anchor; I think probably she did"

Really? In 12500 feet of water?

This was the man who professed to be a marine expert and who set off directly north from the port side of a ship which was heading west.

I can't explain as to why he made that statement.

Hitchens had wrung more salt water out of his sock than that man had ever sailed over. (Oh I know he crossed the Atlantic several times... just making a point.)

He crossed the Atlantic 40 times to be exact. I completely disagree with your statement. With the exception of his above statement, Peuchen was extremely handy and knowledgeable around boats. He didn't serve as a Rear Commodore and Vice Commodore with the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) for nothing.
 
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Jim Currie

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Hello Jason!

I said 'I think' he was pompus. If he did not have self-preservation to the forefront,then he was not a normal human being. Most real heros are dead. "Better to be a live coward than a dead hero". Nothing wrong with that. But bear in mind there were very many dead heros among the male population that night.. Peuchan was not one of them.
That he was a clever man.. no one can deny. However, look at the versions of why he ended up in the lifeboat.
As far as I can see, only a pompous man would carry-out good work then draw evryone's attention to it.
Only a pompous man would go round with a note book on board carpathia collecting complaints.

Jason, 40 or 100 trips across the Atlantic as a passenger does not equip anyone to profesionally judge a fully qualified, experience able seaman.. particularly one trained by the Royal Navy in 1912.
Being handy and knowledgeable about boats means yachts and dinghys. There are millions of such people of both sexes.
His observations regarding Hichens's abilities as a Quartermaster reveals to me his knowledge of that particular rank.

"He didn't serve as a Rear Commodore and Vice Commodore with the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) for nothing."

I'm sure he did not, but the criteria for that was, and still is ..MONEY and power...and money. Same goes for Golf clubs etc,

Look forward to your book. I promise to keep any crit betwen you and me... honest!

JIm C.
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Hello Jim,

If he did not have self-preservation to the forefront,then he was not a normal human being.

Of course he had some self-preservation in mind, but not to the extreme that he was fighting for a seat in the lifeboat.

However, look at the versions of why he ended up in the lifeboat.

I'm well aware of how he ended up in the lifeboat. I've been researching this man for the last 11 years.

only a pompous man would carry-out good work then draw evryone's attention to it.
Only a pompous man would go round with a note book on board carpathia collecting complaints.

Not once has Peuchen come across as pompous, during my research, so I don't see it that way. You and I will have to agree to disagree on this one.

40 or 100 trips across the Atlantic as a passenger does not equip anyone to profesionally judge a fully qualified, experience able seaman.. particularly one trained by the Royal Navy in 1912.

I realize that and I wasn't implying it, however you missed my point. What I was trying to get across, was the fact that Peuchen wasn't just some amateur and only had an occasional interest in boats.

Look forward to your book.

Thank you.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Jason!

Just back from my annual jaunt to the Old Country!

I'm sure we will never agree about Peuchin's personality. I'm also sure you had delved very deeply imto the mans' character.

I just find his behaviour on that night to be opportunistic to say the least. His narrative puts me very much in mind of the narrative of Captain Rostron of Carpathia. He too was opportunistic. I wonder if anyone else finds a resemblence?

As for his sailing skills.. to professional sailors he was an amateur. More so in 1912 than his modern yachting counter-parts who are now the only real sailors left.

Jim C.
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Hello Jim,

Sorry it's taken me so long to reply, hope you had a nice trip. I'm now on vacation for the next while, visiting Western Canada.

I'm also sure you had delved very deeply imto the mans' character.

Indeed, I have and it's taken a lot of time getting to know him.

I just find his behaviour on that night to be opportunistic to say the least.

Again, that's not how I see it. Unfortunately for Peuchen, he simply found himself in a very bad situation which he would spend the rest of his life explaining.

As for Arthur Rostron, I've never thought of him as opportunistic either. He was doing what any other good Captain would do, as you would know...going to the aid of a fellow Captain who required assistance. Of course, it helped his career but he does not come across that way in his book "Home From The Sea", which I've just recently acquired from a friend.

More so in 1912 than his modern yachting counter-parts who are now the only real sailors left.

A very sad realization, that they are a dying breed.
 

Jay Roches

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As a Quartermaster he would have been working class, and so he would have been inclined by God's Plan for England to be at *least* tipsy, if his ship sank. Obviously, higher-born men, colonels and the like, could have faced death sober (well, hardly ever drunk!), but not a quartermaster.

In reality he probably really did believe the boats would be swamped and he probably acted out of genuine fear. It's not as if he'd read from Wikipedia or even the Inquiries that the lifeboats could hold 65 adult-male-equivalents or more...

In all honesty, I think the Titanic story is so much less about what happened that night as about the rather juvenile world that we somehow grew out of, even if it took a World War. (Men are the breadwinners, yet men must drown...) [That is, that's my opinion after being interested in the phenomenon for 25 years...)
 

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